Sunday, February 24, 2013



   Yesterday my mini-family (me, husband, daughter) saw HIT THE WALL, an off-Broadway play newly transferred from Chicago and still in previews at the Barrow Street Theater. The reason we went can be summed up in three words: Rania Salem Manganaro (above), who was in the original production in Chicago and is now inhabiting the same role in New York. My husband used to teach with Rania's dad at Rutgers and was a close friend of her parents, and he's known her and her equally amazing brothers approximately since each of them was born. I've only known Rania since she was about five, but even that is a fairly long time, don't you think? I can't describe how incredible it was to see her onstage in a New York theater, acting her heart out. Let the rest of her family be academics if they insist, but Rania is an ACTRESS.
     If you're in the New York area, you should go see this play, even if by chance you don't know Rania personally. It's set in The Village, in and outside of the Stonewall Inn (which is, in real life, right around the corner from the theater), and all the action takes place on the night of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Just writing the date astonishes me. Can it really be true that less than 50 years ago, gay bars and clubs were illegal? That cops could raid them any time they felt like it, and haul people off to jail for being gay and wanting to drink and dance with other gay people? It felt so strange trying to explain this to my daughter before we went to the play, to try to establish a context for her. To her, it's history, something to read about in books, but I and many of the people in the audience remember Stonewall. I read about it in the paper; they, I surmise, lived it. And speaking of books, here's one my daughter, or anyone, should read to learn more about that era: Michael Chabon's THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY. It's not only an extraordinary novel (they don't give out Pulitzers for nothing, ya know), but, among many other dazzling feats, it brings this chapter of history to sad, vivid life.
     To call Barrow Street an intimate theater is a bit of an understatement. We sat in the first row, which was at stage level, and before the show someone from the theater came over to ask me to push my purse and umbrella all the way under my seat, lest the actors trip over them! Perhaps you can imagine how mortified my 16-year-old daughter must have been to be sitting with her parents at the point when a handsome young actor ran nude across the stage within ten feet of her. But it was a thrilling experience (for me, at least) to be so close to the action. (All the action, not just that part of it.) The play was by turns funny, horrifying, and moving.The cast was very talented (especially Rania, of course), and it was worth the trip for me just to hear those young people, all born into the post-Stonewall era, standing tall and screaming, "Out of the closet and into the streets!" It's a good thing to be reminded of one night that changed history. Gay or straight, this play will make you proud. 
     ADDENDUM 3/19/13:  The New York Times likes the play too!! I wouldn't steer you wrong!

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